Yesterday, we discussed the increasing problem of police caused dog fatalities. Let’s examine some of the reasons why this may be happening.
Behavior maven Pat Miller of Peaceable Paws had a nice recent blog entry on the topic listing some of the causes (Cops Shooting Dogs)
She lists four reasons, they are:
- Popularization of the Pit Bull
- Societal Sensitization to Dog Bites
- Dog Mauling and Dog Fatality Related Statistics (we’ll discuss this one in-depth tomorrow)
- Lack of Community Outrage
While certainly blame for much of the problem lies squarely in the hands of the perpetrators, I think we as a society also need to accept our contributions to the problem. When we realize the full extent and causes of this problem, we have the information needed to make a positive change.
To Pat’s list, I’ll add:
- Improperly managed dogs – containment issues, training considerations
- Societal ignorance (on the part of law enforcement, pet owners, and the general citizenry) about canine body language and appropriate greetings
- Inadequate training for police on dogs
Since Pat addressed the first four, I’ll briefly discuss each of the points I mentioned.
Improperly Managed Dogs
While it is true that some of the victims of shooting-by-cop were leashed, fenced, or in their own homes, the majority of dogs shot by police are off leash or otherwise not under the control of their owners.
Some of the dogs had pulled the leash out of their owner’s hands to go after another dog or person. The solution? More training for polite leash behavior and systematic desensitization protocol (preferably under the guidance of an experienced professional) for on-leash triggers.
Additionally, owners must consider that some methods of containment, particularly shock fencing systems and tethering or chaining dogs, have the tendency to create aggression in dogs. Here’s a brief blog on the subject: Does Electric Fencing Condition Aggression & Fear? For more information on the subject of chaining, visit Dogs Deserve Better. Whenever possible, use of privacy fencing is advised. If, for financial reasons this is not possible, owners are considered to use chain link fencing or The Best Friend Fence.
Regardless of the containment method you choose, supervise your dog at all times when he is outside.
Socialization – any dog trainer will tell you that adequate and extensive socialization during puppyhood is the best way to reduce aggression. Aside from the fact that cops are generally not experts in canine body language, it is generally safe to assume that dogs who “appear aggressive” are most likely to end up victims. Early and extensive socialization reduces your dog’s threat to society in two ways, by increasing his bite threshold and bite inhibition. A bite threshold is how far a dog must be pushed to use his teeth in what he perceives to be self-defense. Bite inhibition is how hard a dog uses his teeth when he bites. Many positive interactions with people and other dogs when he is developing will increase his bite threshold. Play with other dogs at a young age and appropriate training will improve his bite inhibition.
If your dog has an existing reactivity or aggression problem, seek the assistance of a qualified behavior professional. Using a muzzle in public may help keep everyone safe.
Poor supervision – Never allow your dog to be around strangers or young children unsupervised for any length of time, whether your dog is “friendly” or not.
Whether you have dogs, like dogs but don’t have any, or hate dogs, we must all realize that dogs are a part of the fabric of our society, a fact which is not likely to change any time soon. This means that everyone should learn:
- how to accurately assess dog body language
- how to greet a strange dog
- to assume that all dogs are aggressive and let them prove you wrong
- to always ask an owner’s permission before greeting a dog
- common dog bite triggers
Doggone Safe is a fantastic organization which offers bite prevention education and resources for individuals, community groups, and professional associations or businesses whose work brings them into frequent contact with dogs.
The fact is, many people totally misunderstand dog body language. A wagging tail does not always mean a dog is happy – depending on how the tail wags and other body signals, the dog may be indicating happiness or a potential bite. Play in dogs can often be misidentified as aggression (this goes the other way, with some pet owners thinking their aggressive dogs are “just playing”).
Inadequate Training for LEO (law enforcement officers)
While it is advised that John Q. Public educate himself on dogs, it is doubly advised that anyone routinely carrying firearms as part of their job and coming into contact with dogs on a regular basis have better knowledge of dog behavior. I hope to see more programs like Bark…Stop, Drop, and Roll, which will help law enforcement officers:
- more accurately assess risk in situations involving dogs
- learn non-lethal techniques for dog control
Ask any dog trainer – in order to change dog behavior, you have to change the behavior of the people involved. While it is true that law enforcement officers in particular need to learn new skills to protect dogs and people in our society, both pet owners and non-pet owners in general society must become educated and active in preventing such problems to truly resolve the issue.